Prob­a­bil­i­ties for 2018 Se­nate race

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION -

If pol­i­tics is a science, it is a science of prob­a­bil­i­ties, not cer­tain­ties. “Pres­i­dent” Hil­lary Clin­ton could prob­a­bly elab­o­rate on that as could the late “Pres­i­dent” Tom Dewey.

This is not to say there are no cer­tain­ties in pol­i­tics. One is the cal­en­dar. Penn­syl­va­nia on Novem­ber 6th will hold a U.S. Se­nate elec­tion (along with 33 other states) - one that al­most cer­tainly will help de­ter­mine which na­tional party con­trols Con­gress dur­ing the last two years of Pres­i­dent Trump’s cur­rent term.

An­other near cer­tainty is that the op­pos­ing ma­jor party nom­i­nees will be Demo­crat in­cum­bent Bob Casey and re­tir­ing Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Lou Bar­letta. Casey’s a two-term in­cum­bent who has no se­ri­ous op­po­si­tion within the Demo­cratic Party while Bar­letta over­whelm­ing won the en­dorse­ment of his Repub­li­can Party.

Fi­nally, we can be sure the Penn­syl­va­nia se­nate race will be per­ceived as a proxy war be­tween the sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Trump and his op­po­nents. No fiercer critic of Trump serves in the se­nate than Demo­crat Bob Casey, while there has been no more loyal or en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of Trump than Bar­letta. Casey rou­tinely crit­i­cizes Trump for many of his poli­cies. While Bar­letta, who co-chaired Trump’s race in Penn­syl­va­nia, was the early face of im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies Trump later adopted.

Who might win this loom­ing con­test be­tween two can­di­dates who could not be more dif­fer­ent? An­swer­ing that takes us squarely into the realm of po­lit­i­cal prob­a­bil­i­ties, where nu­mer­ous his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal an­tecedents pre­fig­ure the race.

Col­lec­tively, these sug­gest that Con­gress­man Bar­letta, in­deed, has “a high hill to climb” to de­feat Casey – al­though it would be fool­ish to pre­dict ei­ther an easy or cer­tain vic­tory for the two- term in­cum­bent. Bar­letta, who hails from Hazel­ton, is no “Rocky Bal­boa” like po­lit­i­cal pugilist, and he has no bronze statue sit­ting off the steps of the Phil­a­del­phia Mu­seum of Art.

But “Rocky” could well be Bar­letta’s cam­paign avatar as he be­gins an epic strug­gle to un­seat Casey - who has run statewide five times for three sep­a­rate of­fices in the past 15 years, win­ning all of them in a land­slide. In fact, his 2018 can­di­dacy go­ing back to his fa­ther, the near leg­endary gover­nor of the same name, will be the 15th time the Casey name has ap­peared on a state bal­lot over some six decades.

Hard sta­tis­ti­cal prob­a­bil­i­ties lead the list of chal­lenges con­fronting Bar­letta. For more than a cen­tury, the re­elec­tion rate for in­cum­bent se­na­tors of the party not in the White House is 91 per­cent. Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, that makes Bar­letta’s chances of beat­ing Casey about nine per­cent.

Bar­letta also faces other chal­lenges. One of these is Trump. The con­gress­man has em­braced him so fiercely that the race will in­evitably be seen as a per­sonal ref­er­en­dum on Trump and his poli­cies. Trump’s cur­rent ane­mic ap­proval rat­ing means Bar­letta may have trou­ble ex­pand­ing his base be­yond core Trump sup­port­ers. Even worse, Bar­letta is most known for his hard line po­si­tion on im­mi­gra­tion, a po­si­tion greatly at odds with swing and in­de­pen­dent state vot­ers.

Money also looks prob­lem­atic for Bar­letta. Casey al­ready has about ten times more cash on hand ($5.5 mil­lion). Nor is this more than early money in 2018. The Toomey race in 2016 topped $175 mil­lion, set­ting a na­tional record.

Bar­letta has lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in rais­ing these large sums. To do bet­ter he has to at­tract Repub­li­can na­tional cam­paign fun­ders to his cause – and to do that he must demon­strate the abil­ity to raise more funds. That will not be easy. Com­pet­i­tive races abound across the coun­try and Bar­letta must look like a win­ner to at­tract his share of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions.

All of this paints a dreary pic­ture for the Bar­letta can­di­dacy. He is likely to lose. But likely to lose is not cer­tainty that he will.

Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings are show­ing a mod­est up­ward tick na­tion­ally which could con­tinue into the Novem­ber elec­tion. Cer­tainly, he will cam­paign for Bar­letta and it is not yet clear whether Trump helps or hurts on the cam­paign trail.

More­over, the now elu­sive money will flow into Bar­letta’s cof­fers if he gains mo­men­tum and rookie or no; he might turn out to be a great cam­paigner.

If any or all of these things hap­pen, this race could end up an old fash­ioned Penn­syl­va­nia nail biter.

The prob­a­bil­i­ties are that it won’t. The cer­tainty is that it could. G. Terry Madonna is pro­fes­sor of pub­lic af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege, and Michael Young is a for­mer pro­fes­sor of pub­lic af­fairs at Penn State Univer­sity.

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